Estate Planning, Living Will, and Healthcare Power of Attorney documents.

It wasn’t that long ago that anyone who wanted an estate plan would contact their family lawyer or a trusted local attorney. They had a legal need, so they called a legal professional. “Do it yourself” wasn’t even a consideration.

In recent decades, other options have become available: first, DIY estate planning forms started cropping up in office supply stores. For a fraction of the cost of hiring an attorney, you could fill in the blanks and have yourself a Last Will and Testament. Soon after, the internet emerged and with it, a variety of websites that offered inexpensive, customizable DIY estate planning forms. For many people, the convenience and cost-savings made web-based estate planning seem like a great idea.

However, as with many things, how an estate plan seems online and how it works in real life can be vastly different. The difference is, if you order a coat online and it doesn’t meet your needs, you can ship it back. If your DIY estate plan isn’t a good fit, that may not be discovered until it’s too late, and at a far greater cost. Consider these DIY estate planning risks before undertaking this important process on your own.

Unintended Consequences of DIY Estate Planning

One good reason not to go DIY on your estate plan is simply that you don’t know what you don’t know. You could create a document that looks official and complete, but that creates problems that you didn’t anticipate—and that may not be discovered until after you’re gone.

It would be impossible to catalog every possible unintended consequence in this space, but here are a couple to think about. One common estate planning mistake is to leave something in a will that doesn’t belong there, like an investment account with a beneficiary designation. Beneficiary designations trump gifts made in a will, even when the will is made later. Confusion over who gets a particular asset can lead to costly probate litigation and permanent family rifts.

Another common unintended consequence of DIY estate planning is leaving your children’s inheritance vulnerable to future creditors—including, potentially, their spouse in a divorce. An estate planning attorney can help ensure that the inheritance is protected.

It’s best to tell an experienced estate planning attorney about your family, needs, and goals. She can then design an estate plan to help you achieve those goals—without creating other problems in the process.

Estate Planning Only for Your Death

When most people think of making an estate plan, they think of what will happen to their property after they die. But estate planning is also about protection for you during your life. For instance, if you were to become incapacitated, who would handle your finances? Who would make medical decisions on your behalf? Would they know your wishes, and carry them out?

If you create a DIY estate plan that only addresses your assets after death, your family may be put in a terrible position if you need assistance and don’t have powers of attorney and health care directives in place that give them the authority to help. They may need to pursue guardianship and/or conservatorship over you, a process that can cause conflict and stress. An estate planning attorney will help you plan for incapacity as well as death.

Forgetting That Things Change

You’ve probably heard that the only thing constant in life is change. That applies to estate planning, too. People marry and divorce. Family members are born or adopted, while others pass away. Families move from one state to another. Assets are acquired and transferred. Wealth may grow or shrink. And laws are always changing.

Even if your DIY estate planning is perfectly on point today, designed to do exactly what you would want it to, all those changes we just mentioned mean that your plan might not work so well in a year, or ten, or twenty. An estate planning attorney will keep you informed of any major changes in the law that could affect your plan, and help you update your plan as needed at a reasonable cost.

Not Taking Into Account Tax Considerations

One important function of estate planning is minimizing or eliminating exposure to estate tax. You didn’t work hard all your life to then have to hand over a portion of your estate to the government. But that’s what could happen without proper planning.

As of this writing, very few American families will owe federal estate tax. The current federal estate tax exemption is at a historic high: over $12 million for an individual and $24 million for a married couple. But that exemption is scheduled to be slashed at the end of 2025, leaving many more estates vulnerable to estate tax. Minnesota also imposes an estate tax on estates worth more than $3 million. With an attorney’s guidance, you can make sure that your estate avoids both federal and Minnesota estate tax.

Getting an Estate Plan Designed Under Another State’s Laws

Every state has its own estate and probate law. While many of those laws are similar, they are not identical. Creating your own estate plan from a form book or website could mean that you are getting a plan that will work under another state’s laws, but not the state that you live in.

The bottom line is this: your family is unique, and your estate plan should be, too. Your family’s future security is too valuable to risk with DIY estate planning. A plan designed for you by an attorney who has met with you will cost more up front. But it is worth more, too, both in terms of the results it achieves and your peace of mind.

Chances are, you won’t be the one who suffers if your DIY estate plan fails. It will be your family who has to sort through the mess while they are grieving. Working with a reputable estate planning attorney not only avoids a costly catastrophe after your death, but gives your family a guide through the Minnesota probate process.

To learn more about Minnesota estate planning and potential DIY estate planning problems, call Mundahl Law at 763-575-7930 or fill out our online contact form.

Categories: Estate Planning